Usual International Festival Suspects

AMSTERDAM - The new Muziekgebouw hall on the Amsterdam waterfront, which only opened about a year ago, is a spectacular space - or rather, spectacular collection of spaces. In addition to the comfortable and precision-engineered main hall, there is the upstairs black box called Bimhuis (billed as a space for jazz and improv, but actually perfectly well-suited for new music in general), as well as several vast foyers superb for concerts, sound installations, and the like. I'm halfway attending the Output festival of new music employing electric … [Read more...]

Across Oceans and Time Zones

Today I'm giving a lecture on Nancarrow's late player piano studies at the Royal Conservatory in Aarhus, courtesy of expatriate American composer Wayne Siegel, whose music I've been following for more than a couple of decades now. I suppose it's not an event open to the public, but I'm not sure. One that is open, though, will be a performance at the Weis Center at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, this Friday night at 8. Lois Svard, assisted by pianists Megan Rowland and Anja Wade, will play my Long Night for three pianos. Although Sarah … [Read more...]

Once More, then Out of My System

And one more, Nytorv Square, where Kierkegaard grew up: It's not only about Kierkegaard, but about the regret of being a historian from a young country, and wanting to make the 1840s come alive. … [Read more...]

Pursuing My Off-Topic Idée Fixe

The house in which Kierkegaard grew up, and which he later owned (buying out his brother's share), was on a site where the Danish Bank now sits, though there's a plaque making the spot: I had lunch at a diner, across the square, that was built around 1830. Prostitutes used to frequent it, and you can't tell me Søren never went in there. His final address was 38 Skindergade: Vor Frue Kirke, Our Lady's Church, is so large, and the neighborhood around it so crowded, that it's difficult to get far enough back for a decent photo. But I went to a … [Read more...]

Hero of the Subjective

As I write this, I am finally on the plane to Copenhagen. By "finally," I mean after 30-something years. I've always known Copenhagen would draw me to it someday. It was unthinkable that, in my lifetime, I would fail to walk the streets that Søren Kierkegaard spent his life walking up and down. It is difficult to think of a writer more specifically tied to his location than Kierkegaard - the neighborhood surrounding the Vor Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady) in which he inveighed against the local clergy by name often appears in his writings as an … [Read more...]

The Greatest Symphony Ever (Re-)Written

My mom got her master's in music ed when I was a kid. Afterward I inherited (in the same sense that my son "inherits" books and CDs from me now - Mom's still around) her heavily underlined copies of Joseph Machlis's Introduction to Contemporary Music and Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the books from which I first learned about new music. When I was 12, already heavily into classical music, I asked Mom one day why there were no American composers. She said she thought there were, and gave me two names: Charles Ives and … [Read more...]

New Clothes for Custer

I write for nonexistent orchestras, peopled by superhumans. I need pitches and harmonies beyond the scope of current acoustic instruments, fingered in rhythms no musician can count. And so, despite a dearth of training in the field, despite a lack of talent for the technology, I am driven to make electronic music that will not be considered electronic music by electronic composers. My music argues its way into a no-man's land in which even the simple category of medium is denied it: it exists entirely as a digital soundfile, but it is, by … [Read more...]

Euro-Postclassicality Does Exist

I tend to buy more scores in the UK than CDs. The kinds of British composers who get their recordings into the stores are, as here only more so, not really the postclassical variety. I don't listen to the recordings I already have by Harrison Birtwhistle, Thomas Adès, James Dillon, Peter Maxwell Davies, and so on, avidly enough to justify busting my frail bank account of puny little Americo-dollars trying to get every recording I'd never seen before by them all. I do, however - and it is always my first act in London - run through the entire … [Read more...]

Return from Adult Land

Thoughts on traveling: Little things about England make you feel more adult than the U.S. makes you feel. Like, in most public restrooms, the water in the sink stays on until you turn it off, instead of auto-switching off after six seconds. The bathroom does not send you a message, "You're probably too irresponsible to turn the water off yourself, jackass, so we've already arranged to do it for you." On the other hand, while the British I end up talking to are preternaturally and enviably articulate, soft-spoken, and intelligent-sounding, … [Read more...]

The Minimalist Invasion

The Menai Bridge, built in 1826: This morning in a book store in Wales I found a fat, impressive tome titled, "Hanes Cerddoriaeth y Gorllewin." It meant nothing to me until I read down to the authors' names: Grout and Palisca. Yes, that's right, the Grout History of Music, that scourge of music undergrads, is translated into Welsh. ("Cerddoriaeth" is Welsh for "music.") At £25, it was almost worth buying to display prominently in my office, but too heavy to lug around in my suitcase. The FIrst International Conference on Minimalism and Music … [Read more...]

Setting the Record Straight

First International Conference of Music and Minimalism, University of Wales, day 2: I've been asked how many people are here: there are 34 papers over the three days, and I'd guesstimate that accounts for about half the people attending. Today was a little more diverse than yesterday, not quite as consistently exciting, but long and dense. A lot of us have been talking about how great it is to be able to indulge our enthusiasms for various obscure minimalisms amidst other academics without having them sneered at. Jonathan Bernard (U. of … [Read more...]